Holly R. Fisher
Holly Fisher's route to conservative internet stardom began in the parking lot of a mall in Barboursville, West Virginia.
Fisher, a mother of three, told Business Insider she was driving through the local Chick-fil-A with her husband when he noticed the "totally right winger" combination of the Pro-Life shirt she was wearing and the Chick-fil-A cup in her hand.
The couple added the Hobby Lobby store across the parking lot as the backdrop, and the conservative trifecta was complete. They took a picture for Fisher to post to her Twitter followers and sent it out July 1, one day after the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling, which determined privately held corporations could not be mandated to provide contraception for their employees.
— Holly Fisher (@HollyRFisher) July 1, 2014
The tweet went viral. Fisher, who works as a political consultant on local campaigns, had been tweeting and blogging about her views for years, and she already had more than 20,000 followers, but the Hobby Lobby tweet caused her online persona to explode in popularity. Fisher more than doubled her online audience after the post and, as of this writing, she had more than 46,500 followers.
On July 4, Fisher tweeted again. This post, Fisher says, finished the job of the first. The caption says it all:
— Holly Fisher (@HollyRFisher) July 4, 2014
Both the right and the left reacted to Fisher's posts. Liberals dubbed her "the new face of the American Taliban," "jihad Barbie" and "Hobby Lobby mega-troll," among other monikers, and conservatives created the hashtag #IStandWithHolly, which has been used more than 4,000 times since the media craze began. Fisher also launched a media blitz, appearing on NRA News and Fox & Friends, among others. She told Business Insider she had been approached with other TV offers and even encouraged to run for office.
After suddenly finding herself in the spotlight, Fisher told radio host Joe Pagliarulo she thought it "would be a funny little thing with [her] Twitter followers, but ... never thought this would happen." However, Fisher's instant celebrity might not be a surprise to longtime observers of the political landscape. Fisher rode into the spotlight atop a wave of digital conservative activism that has been surging for some time.
Erick Erickson, host of the Erick Erickson show and Editor-In-Chief of RedState.com, has seen the trend firsthand. He told Business Insider that when RedState, now a popular conservative news site, launched a decade ago, the company struggled to "build an online community of conservative activists." Since then, things have changed, and Erickson now sits atop a veritable blog empire that, according to the analytics site Quantcast, has more than 1.3 million readers each month.
"In the past two years, I've seen Twitter bring people together across demographics, states and backgrounds to form communities ... in a way not possible in the past," Erickson said. "A lot of these people are disenchanted with the political parties overall and with institutional, establishment conservatism. Without a candidate to rally around for office, grassroots activists are rallying around each other in a sense of community that wasn't possible just a few years ago."
Erickson also suggested that the online conservative movement may be outstripping liberals' digital efforts, saying "conservatives are more active on Twitter than liberals."
The epicenter of this digital community is the hashtag #TCOT (top conservatives on twitter). In just 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, the hashtag was used 1,500 times, a rate of about 72,000 times a day. Many of these activists stand primarily on social issues like gun control, religious freedom, and traditional marriage.
Holly Fisher at shooting practice.
Fisher is clearly a product of this Twitter-fueled brand of conservative activism. In fact, when asked if there were any political figures she saw as role models, Fisher cited two conservative pundits who have been pioneers in the online space – Michelle Malkin and Dana Loesch, who together have nearly 1 million Twitter followers.
Malkin also sees Fisher as part of this growing community of hashtag conservatives.
"Like hundreds and hundreds of thousands of other engaged conservative Twitter users, she uses social media to share links, squash false narratives, and assert her principles," Malkin said of Fisher in an email to Business Insider. "And like a growing movement of conservatives online, she's unafraid to battle opponents and unintimidated by left-wing sexism, misogyny, and threats."
Malkin described the social media-centric conservative activists as "filling a massive void" left by mainstream Republicans in Washington.
"Grassroots conservative activism online is filling a massive void left by establishment GOP strategists and consultants who poll-test and focus-group everything to death before making a move. [It] enables gifted communicators and enterprising conservative users outside the Beltway -- who don't have cable TV contracts or political jobs and don't want them -- to make their voices heard," Malkin said.
Indeed, Fisher has found the internet is the perfect venue for her to find a community of others who agree with conservative positions on social issues that may not be seen as politically correct outside of the online bubble. As a woman, Fisher described social media as an opportunity for her to challenge the "liberal-young-woman" image.
"I've had thousands of 18-19, early 20-year-old girls send me messages over the last week, thanking me for what I'm doing," Fisher said. "They tell me they're afraid to admit they have these pro-life, traditional, conservative values just because it's not popular right now for women to be conservative, because then you're a bigot; you're a racist; you're a homophobe. I think if we refuse to listen to these people who tell us to sit down and shut up, we can continue to get more people to find the courage to take a stand."
Fisher and her fellow online conservative activists are not satisfied with the conservative Republicans in Washington. When asked about how she felt regarding conservative activity coming from the Hill, Fisher said she was "not impressed."
"There are very few people in Congress right now who don't sell out. I don't think very many of them stick to their values. You have people like Ted Cruz, who stick to their guns, and he's seen as an extremist," Fisher said.
Josh Riddle, co-founder of the Twitter account and blog YoungCons, has experienced the growth of the hashtag conservatism firsthand. Riddle and his now business partner, David Rufful, launched their Twitter account while in college. They graduated from Dartmouth two years ago and had about 3,000 Twitter followers as of the November 2012 election. Less than two years later, they have a fully functioning website and more than 61,500 followers on Twitter.
Riddle attributed the growth of conservative social media activism to the fact young conservatives were looking for Republicans they could trust.
"The market is huge. People are desperate for conservatives whose messages they can share with their friends. Young conservatives are looking for something different than what is going on in Washington and something different from what is portrayed constantly in the media. They want conservatives who are unashamed and to know they're not the weirdo that pop culture wants to label them as," Riddle said.
The vacuum that has left young conservatives turning to Twitter to find likeminded leaders may have something to do with the waning power of the movement that defined grassroots conservative activism for the first few years of the Obama administration – the Tea Party. A Gallup poll from May 2014 found nationwide support for the Tea Party down to 22%. The poll also found that just 41% of conservatives now support the movement, down from 61% in 2010.
When asked about the state of the Tea Party, Fisher said that while she supported some of their messages, "they're definitely losing steam."
"The online conservative movement is seeing more and more people speaking up and finding their voice, and this trend will continue to grow," Fisher said.
Holly Fisher with business partner Veronica Lewis and Rep. Paul Ryan on July 14.
Emory-based political scientist Alan Abramowitz pegged the decline of the Tea Party to efforts by the mainstream GOP to fend off primary challenges from rivals supported by the grassroots.
"Since 2010, there has been a concerted effort among establishment Republicans and business groups aligned with republicans to go after the Tea Party," Abramowitz said.
However, rather than annihilating the Tea Party, Abramowitz argued the very establishment that sought to remove them from the spotlight had actually brought them into the GOP.
"The Republican establishment has been able to hang on in many of these races by adopting the ideas of the Tea Party. If you look at what these people are running on, take establishment-type Republicans [David Perdue and Jack Kingston] in Georgia, you see they're catering towards the right side of the party," Abramowitz said.
Whatever the cause, for the Tea Party's poor performance in the polls and the 2012 elections, there's no question that there is still a community of conservative activists eager to find an alternative to the Republican establishment. Tabitha Hale, a conservative blogger, said that many Tea Party supporters felt adrift after their recent failures.
"Most of these people are volunteers," Hale said. "They put in a ton of energy, and their own money, and for many of them it felt like their goal wasn't accomplished after the losses. That's a tough blow to recover from."
And it increasingly seems many of these conservative activists could find a new community and perhaps even new leaders online. Fisher certainly seems eager to build a larger movement after her brush with viral fame. She told us she will start with some work for 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control and is developing a more detailed business plan with her husband, David, and friend Veronica Lewis, whom she originally met on Twitter. Fisher said the model would "begin online, and will focus on conservative marketing." Her goal is to "provide a platform for conservatives to speak out. We want them to know they are not alone." However, she also would be open to working with more traditional mediums.
I really enjoyed being on 'Fox & Friends.' It was crazy," Fisher said. "So yeah, if I ever got the right opportunity to go on TV, I would definitely do it."
In the meantime, Fisher has a warning for her critics – she and her fellow hashtag conservatives are here to stay.
"I see myself being a voice for the conservative movement. Everyone keeps telling me, 'Your 15 minutes is almost up. No one will remember you in a few months.' I am here to tell them: I'm not going away," Fisher said. "This conservative movement isn't going away. It's only going to get stronger, and I'm going to make sure of that."
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